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    Norms and Nobility: Choose a Side

    July 9, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD,
    choose you this day whom ye will serve;
    whether the gods which your fathers served
    that were on the other side of the flood,
    or the gods of the Amorites,
    in whose land ye dwell:
    but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

    Joshua 24:15

    My father was kind enough to deliver a replacement sander yesterday afternoon. I tried to sand under the garage light after the children were in bed, but after about half an hour I gave up; I just couldn’t see well enough, and the bugs attracted to the light were making me shiver.

    The question became, then, what to do, seeing as my husband was busy writing an essay, and I know better than to start any more projects with so much on my plate already. Naturally, then, I settled in to spend an evening with David Hicks’ Norms and Nobility. After all, I have to keep up with my reading schedule when I can, or I’ll never finish before I need to plan school.

    David Hicks says that dogma is a prerequisite for a sound education. He examines the modern classroom, with its panels of experts and its clinical detachment, and finds it wanting. The “products” of modern education are damaged–afflicted by “addiction…and malaise.” Their consciences are underdeveloped and uninformed. They are not men ready to join the ranks of the noble, true, good, and virtuous, but workers ready to serve as slaves to the industrial economy with

    an ability to manipulate the material universe, to perform complicated tasks, and to cope with the complexities of life in modern industrial society.

    Whereas modern education exists to give students the skills they need for the “complex industrial life” they will be leading, the aim of classical education, if you will recall, is

    the formation of a mature person who loves inquiry that reaches into earthly as well as transcendent realms of knowledge, who makes the connection between this knowledge and his responsibility in the life of virtue, and who struggles against long odds to fulfill in himself the high exigencies of the Ideal Type.

    Dialectic, says Hicks, is the mode of instruction which accomplishes these classical goals, and dogma is the origination point for dialectic. In other words, classical education requires dialectic; dialectic requires dogma; therefore, dogma is necessary for a classical education to take place.

    Hicks compares this need for dogma to our modern, Cartesian way of thinking in which we value doubt and analytical detachment above all else.

    At this point, we have an antithesis. On the one hand, we have dialectical classicism where

    a learner cannot see all sides of a question until he has chosen one.

    On the other hand is

    analytical education [which] assumes that choosing one side blinds the learner to all others.

    What is interesting to me is Hicks’ description of the impact on the learner.

    In dialectical education, the student begins with dogma (they take a position), and then the dogma is challenged. In the process, the student begins to struggle with ideas. A nice side benefit of this is that this is the sort of thing a student will naturally pay attention to. Inside this struggle, the child is alive, fully engaged. In the end, he gains knowledge which will stay with him throughout his life (not to mention the refining, altering, or reinforcing of the dogma).

    However, comma.

    Today’s student is much more likely to be given an analytical education. Remember: in analysis, choosing a side is anathema. (The one dogma of analysis is Neutrality.)

    Thought and action exist apart from each other, the mind affecting to observe but not to participate in the acting out of ideas, fearful lest its participation should prejudice the learning, yet ignorant that participation is essential in bringing together thought and action for responsible learning. For this reason, the value-free approach of analysis warps education by methodically straining out the normative nutrition in life and letters and by sacrificing the transcendent, life-transforming value of knowledge to a dead set of utilitarian options and objectives. (emphasis mine)

    All of the passion is therefore removed from learning and Hicks doesn’t say this, but I’ll tell you a secret: the students are bored out of their minds, mostly due to this lack of passion.

    Analysis, while appropriate for science, falls flat in other areas.

    If we want children to learn, says Hicks, we have to recover dialectic (that struggle with ideas that Socrates provoked by his questioning), and to recover dialectic, we need to conquer our fear of dogma.

    Read More:
    Norms and Nobility Chapter VI Section I: What I Don’t Know
    Norms and Nobility Chapter 6 (Final): “Git ‘er Done.”

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts July 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Rebekah, If you end up getting it, I hope you like it as much as I have! This has been a very challenging read, in a good way. I find books like this are cleansing me of the marks from my own modern education. 🙂

  • Reply Rebekah July 9, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Interesting! I think I will have to get this book! It may do well as one to discuss in my book club!

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